The Gulfstream G600 felt like a rocket as it zipped south at nearly the speed of sound during a demonstration flight in March.
Nearly 45,000ft below, Florida's east coast streamed past like a moving map.
The well-appointed G600 had been pressed into show-off mode, with executives proudly highlighting its features ahead of certification, which Gulfstream expects in the first half of 2019.
Gulfstream arrives at EBACE following a critical period during which the company continued G600 flight testing while achieving certification and entry into service of the type's smaller sibling, the G500.
The company describes those types as among the fastest, quietest and most advanced business jets available – claims that will surely be challenged by competitors Bombardier and Dassault.
At the same time, Gulfstream is preparing to roll out new technology aimed at making its fleet safer and better able to operate in poor visibility.
The company is also considering potential next projects, although it is keeping its cards close to its chest.
"One of the key areas where we have spent a lot of effort is innovation, and we are leading the industry on safety," says Gulfstream vice-president of flight operations Colin Miller.
"We are looking at lots of different things in the market, for every model and every segment," Miller adds. "No announcements today."
Gulfstream says it already has an edge, thanks not only to the 5,200nm (9,630km) range G500 and 6,500nm-range G600, but also based on stalwarts such as the G550 and G650.
The G550 has 6,750nm range and the G650 has 7,000nm range. The G650ER can fly the farthest – at 7,500nm, adds Gulfstream.
"Every time we fly between city pairs, we set a new world record," says Miller of the G650. "It likes to go fast, and it's got legs."
As for the G550, he says: "Sometimes you just get a design right," citing the aircraft's fly-by-wire technology and short-runway performance.
"It’s the best value, probably, in business aviation," says Miller of the type.
Despite uncertain economic conditions in many parts of the world, Gulfstream insists its business remains healthy.
Gulfstream parent General Dynamics logged $6.2 billion in revenue last year from its aircraft manufacturing and completions unit, nearly flat year on year. The business jet unit's earnings, however, declined last year, partly because deliveries of new models generated narrower margins, according to financial reports.
Gulfstream delivered 121 aircraft in 2018, one more than in 2017, and expects to hand over 145 aircraft in 2019. Some 2,750 Gulfstream aircraft are in service worldwide.
"Last year was probably our best year ever for competitive wins at Gulfstream," says Gulfstream senior vice-president of worldwide sales Scott Neal. "We are having good success selling Gulfstream airplanes to people that own our competitors' airplanes."
"We are really the only OEM that has, over the last decade, brought clean-sheet, high-technology and advanced-design airplanes to market," he adds.
The company's backlog stands at 135 aircraft, comprising 13 G280s, 42 G500s, 24 G550s, 13 G600s and 43 G650s, according to Cirium's Fleets Analyzer.
Gulfstream remains heavily dependent on sales to North American customers, but has made notable strides expanding internationally.
In 2009, just 28% of the airframer's fleet was based outside North America, split evenly between Latin America, Europe, Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, company figures show.
By 2018, 35% of the fleet was based overseas, with 12% in the Asia-Pacific region. Africa, Europe and Latin America each accounted for 7-8% of the fleet.
The company's international expansion has come as it opened new overseas sales and support facilities. It recently opened a Vienna sales office and announced plans for service expansions in Savannah, Appleton, in Wisconsin; West Palm Beach, Florida; Farnborough, near London and Le Bourget near Paris.
Gulfstream is particularly bullish on the Asia-Pacific region, where it has seen "very, very strong growth", says Neal, noting the number of Gulfstream jets in that region jumped by 24% between 2014 and 2018.
But the greatest opportunities may lie in China, where Gulfstream opened a Beijing service centre in 2012.
"We were one of the first OEMs to significantly invest in China, in terms of people and planes, and we established a strong market following very early," Neal says.
Gulfstream also attributes its Chinese sales success to the nature of the market, where customers need aircraft with enough range to reach far-flung destinations.
"When the market started, it was a large-cabin, long-range market, which was perfect for Gulfstream. They wanted airplanes that could fly a long way – to and from China nonstop," says. Neal. "Our product line at the time – the 450 and 550 – was just perfectly situated."
Gulfstream's China expansion has "tempered a little bit" lately, possibly due to trade tensions between the USA and China, although executives expect a rebound, saying expansion of the Chinese economy will mean more demand for business jets.
"I think there is enormous opportunity in the Asia-Pacific region, especially mainland China. They are going to continue to grow," Neal says.
Demand has also been strong in Europe, where Gulfstream has seen "pretty significant traction with both the 500 and the 600", says Neal. "Those two airplanes seem to have hit a real sweet spot over in Europe."
Gulfstream even sees strength in Latin America, despite that region's economic and political struggles.
"There is still activity there. It is vibrant," he says. "Our fleet continues to grow in the region."
NEW, ADVANCED MODELS
Gulfstream believes the new G500 and G600 will propel the company into the start of the next decade.
Those types, powered by Pratt & Whitney Canada PW800 turbofans, have improved fly-by-wire systems, sidestick controls and advanced avionics and flight systems. Acoustics engineers from corporate sibling General Dynamics Electric Boat – a submarine builder – helped make the G500 and G600 quieter.
"The 500 and 600 are going to do extremely well in China because of the cabin size, the range and speed. The technology of the cockpit is second to none," Neal says.
Launched in 2014, the G500 and G600 programmes have advanced close to schedule, though not without hiccups.
Amid supply issues, the G500's certification slipped from 2017 to 2018, though Gulfstream still met its goal of delivering the first aircraft in 2018.
The G600's initial timeline called for 2018 certification and 2019 deliveries.
Gulfstream now says, that the G600 is expected to be certificated in the first half of 2019, adding that deliveries are to begin this year, too.
Executives have attributed that delay partly to the shutdown of the US federal government earlier this year.
In March one of four flight-test G600s was flying above Newfoundland in search of conditions that would test the aircraft's performance in icing. At that point, Gulfstream had completed about 2,900h of G600 flight tests.
"We are finishing up the remaining flight-into-known-icing, and then the function and reliability testing, which is the last step we need to go through with the FAA. We are very close," says Neal.
When launched, the G500 and G600 programmes faced competition primarily from the then-in-development Dassault Falcon 5X and Bombardier's Global 5000 and 6000.
But the competitive position has since changed.
Dassault cancelled the 5X amid problems with Safran's Silvercrest engine, replacing it by launching the PW800-powered Falcon 6X, an aircraft with an advertised 5,500nm range.
Bombardier also launched the 5,700nm-range Global 5500 and 6,600nm-range Global 6500, both powered by Rolls-Royce Pearl 15 engines.
Although now roughly a decade old, Gulfstream's G550 and G650 remain crucial to the company's line-up.
Gulfstream is now developing cockpit and technology improvements for those aircraft, most notably an effort to achieve enhanced flight vision system (EFVS)-to-land certification, which the G500 already has.
EFVS gives pilots a digital image of their surroundings, allowing them to land in lower visibility. EFVS-to-land certification allows pilots to use the system to descend in nil visibility "all the way to landing", Miller says.
Gulfstream expects that the Federal Aviation Administration will grant the G650 EFVS-to-land certification in the first half of 2019, followed by European approval next year. The company is seeking that approval for its other models, too.
In addition, Gulfstream is working on steep-approach approval for the G650, enabling it to operate into airports such as London City.
Other new technology includes development by Gulfstream and Honeywell of a "runway overrun awareness and alerting system" aimed at helping to prevent accidents at landing.
During approach and landing, the system continuously calculates factors such as aircraft speed and altitude, autobrake settings and runway conditions to estimate where on the runway the aircraft will stop. It indicates that position to pilots.
"It is computing this for you while you are airborne," Miller says. "If the landing is not going to work, it says: 'Go around.'"
The G650 will have the overrun alerting system later this year, and Gulfstream will add the system to the G500, G600 and G550, executives say.
Meanwhile, Gulfstream is eyeing opportunities in other segments of the market, including the super-midsize category, where it offers the G280.
Gulfstream makes that aircraft, introduced in 2008, in partnership with Israel Aerospace Industries.
"We are absolutely 100% committed to super-midsize. We think that's the sweet spot in the market where we want our product line to begin," says Neal. "Our long-term development programme is robust."
Ending G450 production in 2018 also left Gulfstream with a slight portfolio gap between the 3,600nm-range G280 and the G500.
"Obviously, there is an opportunity there," Neal says.